Reader question: How do you use your AMEX Platinum card? What's the best use of points?

 Centurion Lounges at airports such as Philadelphia International (PHL), pictured, are my number one reason for carrying (and paying for) the American Express Platinum card.

Centurion Lounges at airports such as Philadelphia International (PHL), pictured, are my number one reason for carrying (and paying for) the American Express Platinum card.

Question from several WTF readers: How do you use your [AMEX] Platinum card? What is it best for and how do you use the points?

The American Express Platinum is a great card that makes a lot of sense for frequent travelers who spend enough time in the airports featuring Centurion Lounges (more on that in a moment) such that they get outsized value from the excellent complimentary bar and buffet on offer there. The additional travel benefits, including point earning, can be profoundly useful depending on how you organize your travel, and what you value personally.

My number one reason for carrying the AMEX Platinum is that it gives me access to the Centurion Lounges in a number of airports (see the list of locations). Friendly service, bright spaces, complimentary full bar, signature cocktails, nice wine list, and always-delicious locally inspired buffets make these the best lounges in America. The card also gives access to non-Centurion lounges such as one in Stockholm’s airport where I had a delicious served-at-the-table breakfast a few months back, as well as to Delta SkyClub lounges if you are flying Delta the same day and can show a boarding pass. I don’t much value the Priority Pass membership it conveys, because the similar membership included with my Chase Sapphire Reserve allows me to bring more guests.

Further reading: Philadelphia's great new AMEX Centurion Lounge makes the airport my new favorite layover

How do I use my points?

All of the thinking in this piece is predicated on the notion that I use AMEX points for one of two things:

  1. Transferring the points at from AMEX to an airline in the form of miles, usually a 1:1 ratio. This can be a really good way to get great value particularly from booking first and business class award seats.
  2. Redeeming for travel on amextravel.com. When you do this with your Business Platinum card, AMEX will later return you 35% of the points you spend. For example, if I spend 100,000 points on a flight, AMEX will put 35,000 points back in my Membership Rewards balance on the next statement. HOWEVER, this feature is not available with the personal edition of the Platinum card, making it redeeming for travel on amextravel.com significantly less valuable there, and this only works when purchasing flights with the preferred airline you have on file with AMEX (American, in my case, because I live next door to DCA). This is the same airline that you have on file for the card's $200 per year travel fee credit (more on that in a moment).

How do I use my card?

I generally use my Platinum card for:

  • Purchases when there is an “AMEX Offer” to give me special bonus points or cash back (look in the AMEX app on your iPhone to add these).
  • The first $15 or $20 worth of Uber I take in a month. Each month, AMEX reimburses $15 ($20 in December) of Uber expenses for a total of up to $200 per year. I use my Chase Sapphire Reserve card for any Uber beyond that monthly amount because Chase counts it as "travel", meaning I get 3x points back (which I value for at least 4.5 cents per dollar return). Note that this benefit is only available on the personal, vs. the Business Platinum card.
  • Up to $200 per year in "airline fee" purchases with the preferred airline I have on file with AMEX (you are allowed to designate this when you first get the card, and then update it once a year... kind of like enrolling in employer-sponsored health insurance). AMEX gives you a statement credit for the first $200 of "fees" you pay each year to that airline. Different airlines code their "fees" differently, but in the case of American I have gotten the reimbursement for food and drinks purchased in the Admirals Club lounge, and for the copay when I buy an upgrade to business class with miles an cash (the latter can give you nice value on long-haul routes in which you've bought an economy seat but want to move to the next level, though upgrades are space available only).

The Platinum does include the best travel redemption, which is 5x points on all air and hotels you book through amextravel.com. There are some downsides to this, though, that lead me to not prefer to use it for that purpose:

  • You have to book through amextravel.com, rather than direct with the hotel or airline. I find this to be inconvenient.
  • Because you’re not booking direct through your hotel, most hotels will not credit you with their hotel points. I find the 30x points I get on every dollar spent at Hilton to be worth 12 cents per dollar, which is a better return than the 7.5 cents per dollar I’d earn even with 5x points back on the AMEX. I mostly stay at Hilton’s, but I think Marriott and IHG both have similar spreads.
  • AMEX does not offer travel insurance like Chase… so if you’re a Chase Sapphire Reserve holder and flight is delayed or your baggage lost and you’ve booked it on the AMEX, you’ll NOT get Chase to reimburse you up to $500 per incident for emergency hotel, luggage replacement, etc. I calculate that if you think you’ll need that insurance more than once every ~$15,625 spent on airfare, you are better off going with Chase, otherwise go with AMEX. I wrote about this last year (though the numbers are slightly updated based on the most current benefits)…

Further reading: Winner (American Airlines) and loser (American Express) from Monday's DC travel calamity

Now, if you (1) aren’t bothered by booking travel on amextravel.com, (2) don’t collect hotel points, you’ll get a much better return using the Platinum to pay for your hotels. If you aren’t bothered by amextravel.com and / or (3) don’t feel you’ll need the travel insurance more than once every $15,625 you spend on airfare, then you will get a much better return using the Platinum to pay for your airfare. Those who regularly purchase first and business class seats might find that they fall into the #3 category because those more expensive seats mean you hit that $15,625 mark much faster than I do purchasing mostly economy class seats, i.e. your risk of needing the insurance once ever $16k or so is less because it takes you less time to go through $16k of spend on flights.

The final question is that of getting the personal versus the business Platinum edition of the card (if you're able to qualify for the latter). AMEX has done a nice job of making the two of them approximately equal in their ration of return on investment to annual fee. Both earn the 5x points, and both carry the same lounge privileges. Personal carries an annual fee of $550 as well as the $200 annual Uber credit, while the business version offers the 35% airline point return as well as 10 Gogo in-air wifi passes each year (which I value at about $100). I personally prefer the business edition.

What about you? How do you use your Platinum card? What is it best for and how do you use the points?